Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

Here’s the pros and cons of soy, meat and dairy products in an effort to eat, drink and be healthy.

| December 2004/January 2005

  • Eat Drink Be Healthy
    A hamburger provides a full day's supply of protein, but is it good for you? Protein from leaner meats and from vegetable sources has fewer calories and less saturated fat.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Protein Chart
    A chart listing for protein content.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Soy Protein
    Studies show that soy can lower cholesterol, but those results were based on eating the equivalent of 1 pound of tofu a day. Because soy might be associated with health risks, Dr. Willett recommends eating soy only in moderate amounts.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors

  • Eat Drink Be Healthy
  • Protein Chart
  • Soy Protein

We hear a lot these days about the popularity of high-protein diets, but protein has been studied far less intensively than fats and carbohydrates in relation to long-term health and disease.

Intriguing research on soy has kindled new interest in protein that may eventually yield better information, however, that’s several years away. In the meantime, getting more protein from fish, chicken and vegetable sources, such as beans and nuts, and less from red meat and dairy products is high on the list of healthy eating strategies.

A Basic Human Need

Your hair and skin are mostly protein. Ditto your muscles, the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in your blood and the multitude of enzymes that keep you alive and active. Proteins are long, intricate chains fashioned from just 20 or so basic building blocks called amino acids. Because our bodies are constantly making new proteins and because we don’t store amino acids as we do fats, we need a near-daily supply of protein.

Some dietary proteins are complete, meaning they contain all the amino acids needed to make new protein. Others are incomplete, lacking one or more essential amino acids. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products tend to be good sources of complete proteins, but vegetable protein is often incomplete. That’s why it is important for vegetarians to eat combinations that complement each other, such as rice and beans, peanut butter and bread, tofu and brown rice.

We know from laboratory studies and from the horrible “natural experiments” of war and famine that adults need per day about 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of weight, or about 50 grams (about 1.8 ounces) for an adult woman and 65 grams (about 2.3 ounces) for an adult man. You can hit this goal almost without thinking, given the abundance of protein-containing foods. Because it is so easy for Americans to get protein, it’s uncommon for healthy adults in this country to have a protein deficiency.

Aside from the minimum amount of protein needed to keep the body healthy, little guidance is available on the ideal amount of dietary protein. International comparisons aren’t much help because diets around the world tend to have similar amounts of protein. In the average American diet, which we tend to think of as meat-centered, about 15 percent of calories come from protein. In the largely vegetarian, rice-based diets that are common throughout Asia, about 12 percent of calories come from protein. (Rice, which we think of as a carbohydrate, is about 8 percent protein.) Other types of human studies haven’t paid that much attention to protein. Until there’s a good reason to change, a minimum of 8 grams of protein per 20 pounds of body weight is a good guide.

Monique Trahan
9/26/2012 2:03:38 PM

I agree with Brian. This article, although only 8 years old, is frighteningly incorrect and harmful. Saturated fats are necessary to good health and need to come from healthy sources: pastured, organic animal foods such as grass-finished beef, grass-fed organic dairy, pastured eggs and poultry, pastured organic pork and lard. Soy should be avoided in any form, and fermented soy should be used rarely and in tiny, condiment amounts in an organic form. Even fermented, soy has powerful endocrine-disrupting properties.

Brian Tuor
9/24/2012 8:39:26 PM

To learn more about how unfermented soy is not a good choice go to and read about it. From what they say it is killing us, especially the GMO kind. Remember this article is 8 years old. I would expect more current information from MEN on this kind of a topic

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